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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Review of  Crossing Borders, Making Connections

Reviewer: Laura Álvarez López
Book Title: Crossing Borders, Making Connections
Book Author: Allison Burkette Tamara Warhol
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 32.2941

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Current societal challenges have led to an increased number of interdisciplinary initiatives within the Humanities and Social Sciences. Interdisciplinarity basically involves the exploration of research questions through different levels of integration of theoretical and/or methodological perspectives from more than one discipline. Such approaches have proved to be relevant and productive to the work of scholars in various subdisciplines within the field of Linguistics (such as Historical Sociolinguistics; see for example Chapter 14 in the book).

This edited collection constitutes the first volume in the new series “Interdisciplinary Linguistics” by de Gruyter Mouton. The volume covers topics related to linguistic research outside the traditional boundaries of Applied Linguistics and Sociolinguistics, i.e., in the intersection of Humanities and the Social Sciences. In that sense, the book aims to fill an unnoticed gap: there are linguistic journals that publish interdisciplinary work, but no recognized journals of “interdisciplinary linguistics”.

This volume includes 18 chapters that bring together texts authored by researchers within the areas of Humanities and Social Sciences. The contributions are organized into 3 sections: Perspectives, Connections, and Applications. The first section on Perspectives includes 7 chapters. Those texts problematize concepts such as multi-, trans-, and interdisciplinarity in linguistic research. The authors address the need for crossing disciplinary boundaries for different purposes and identify possible challenges and prospects. The second section, Connections, comprises 6 chapters in which scholars of different disciplines debate the same concepts or ideas from different perspectives. Three of those texts deal with the notion of “assemblage” and the remaining three focus on “materiality” (or “materials”). The third and last section, Applications, contains 5 chapters that offer a deeper insight into how strong interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity (including stakeholder involvement) can be achieved within different research initiatives. Altogether, the 18 chapters represent a flourishing variety of scholarly work, discussing or applying theoretical and methodological interdisciplinary approaches to language, culture, and communication.

Chapter 1 is Allison Burkette’s introduction, “Why interdisciplinarity?”, which offers an outline of the sections and chapters of the book. The author, who is also a co-editor of the volume, explains that the book aims at inspiring interdisciplinarity by discussing approaches which have the potential to bring fields such as Sociolinguistics or Applied Linguistics to new dimensions – i.e., beyond their traditional boundaries.

Chapter 2, “The value of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary linguistic research” by Becky Childs, presents an overview of how linguists have been moving toward methodological and applicational interdisciplinarity and collaborations beyond the academic setting. Moreover, the author points out how interdisciplinarity brings added value to new studies and promotes research that displays how linguistic research can address problems concerning not only academia, but also society in general. In a long-term perspective, Childs argues, such initiatives are likely to lead to new theoretical models for research as well as to improved practices for dissemination of research findings.

Stephany Brett Dunstan and Sonja Ardoin are the authors of Chapter 3, with the title “Faculty and student affairs partnerships: Creating inclusive campus environments for students of diverse linguistic backgrounds”. Dunstan and Ardoin bring forward examples of partnerships between faculty and student affairs professionals. Their paper illustrates how critically addressing issues of language diversity in higher education – a subject directly linked to cultural and ethnic diversity among speakers – can be a way to open discussions about identities, stereotypes, and racial injustice. By extension, the authors reason, such debates will result in a more inclusive campus environment that attracts and retains students from diverse backgrounds.

Jessica A. Grieser’s Chapter 4 is titled “Critical race theory and the new sociolinguistics”. The author argues that power dynamics and structural racism are underexplored in sociolinguistic research. Grieser therefore calls for renewed approaches “that challenge the notion of the social construct of race, acknowledge the root of that construct in racism, and seek to change the structures of power that perpetuate racism.” According to her, such perspectives are informed by critical race theory and related theories – and have already been adopted within the disciplines of sociology, education, and law. Grieser finally argues that a refreshing perspective of “raciolinguistics” would, among other things, focus on power and include racism as part of the explaining factors in linguistic variation, consider the subjects’ explanations of variation, and contemplate intersection of social factors.

In Chapter 5, “You don’t even try to understand!: Interdisciplinarity in language and gender studies”, Rusty Barrett applies a very thought-provoking approach to interdisciplinarity by reviewing research that has gone wrong. The paper reviews a set of studies that fail to fulfill their aims due to a lack of linguistic expertise and adequate tools for obtaining reliable results. Instead, those research findings reproduce myths and stereotypes: “The paper […] tells us nothing about language and nothing about gender, but it definitely concludes that English is among the most progressive languages in terms of sexism.” Barrett’s line of reasoning highlights the weight of involving trained experts across different fields of study, in this case linguists, when adopting interdisciplinary approaches.

Through a personal narrative with the title “Ecolinguistics as a transdisciplinary movement and a way of life”, Arran Stibbe describes the field of Ecolinguistics in Chapter 6. The author perceives his discipline as a transdisciplinary movement, implying engagement with the real world. In that sense, Ecolinguistics also has practical and ethical dimensions. The task of an ecolinguist is understood as to critically analyze language and communication (for example discourses of agricultural industries, weather forecasting, or men’s health magazines) to reveal the underlying stories that support inequalities and unsustainability in contemporary societies.

To close this first section, the co-editor of the book, Tamara Warhol, brings forward a detailed illustration of interdisciplinarity in chapter 7, titled “Ethnography in interdisciplinary research in linguistics”. In her study, ethnographic methods and a combination of educational and linguistic analysis of speech transcripts are successfully applied to answer research questions concerning students’ academic language socialization during a course in religious studies.

Allison Burkette’s Chapter 8, “Connections and interdisciplinarity: Linguistic Atlas Project data from an assemblage perspective”, opens Section 2 by clarifying how the concept of “assemblage”, from the field of Archeology, can help structure data from the Linguistic Atlas Project (see In Archeology, she explains, assemblage means “artifacts that are found near each other” and, in Linguistics, it can be used to conceptualize and contextualize data. Burkette maintains that this notion has the potential to broaden the field of vision if applied as a tool to offer users of the atlas access to assemblages of linguistic data. In other words, the interdisciplinary perspective provides the option of searching for linguistic data from a diversity of connection points that were previously unconnected.

The two following chapters also deal with “assemblages”. In Chapter 9, Alastair Pennycook presents his text “Reassembling linguistics: Semiotic and epistemic assemblages”. The author encourages scholars in the field of Linguistics to make the way for renewal. According to him, this can be done by breaking disciplinary constraints and questioning the notions of language and languages. Instead, he suggests, linguists should apply concepts such as semiotic assemblages (“the momentary material and semiotic resources that intersect at a given place and time”) and epistemic assemblages (“epistemological resources that we draw on to engage in certain language-related concerns”). Apart from renewal via interdisciplinarity, Pennycook advocates for the incorporation of alternative forms of knowledge from the Global South.

“Ideological assemblage” is the concept introduced by Linguistic Anthropologist Paul Kroskrity in Chapter 10, titled “Language ideological assemblages within linguistic anthropology”. As claimed by the author, this notion can be applied in countless settings as a resource to approach and study “dynamic configurations of human actors and their beliefs, feelings, and conceptions about language(s) and communication”. The concept of assemblages is presented as “an extension of language ideological theory” because it is likely to establish an extensive framework for exploring complex settings of contact and change by reaching beyond the view of a single ideology, for example, one linked to language standardization or purism.

The three last texts in this section center on the notions of materiality and materials. First is Amy J. Hirshman’s Chapter 11, with the title “A case of archeological classification”. The paper makes a bridge between assemblages and materiality, describing the challenges of systematically classifying archeological artifacts in a way that enables chronology building and regional comparisons, among others. The author concludes that, to be useful, any classification system must primarily “make sense of the complexity and then bend itself to an array of questions and yield useful results.”

In Chapter 12, “Language and materiality in global capitalism”, Jillian R. Cavanaugh and Shalini Shankar explain how the joint focus on language and materiality characterizes an emerging scholarly field. The paper shows how the aim of bringing language and materiality together is to shed light on, among other aspects, the material dimensions of meaning making in technologically mediated communication and the way in which material conditions influence language use and linguistic ideologies.

To conclude Section 2, in Chapter 13 architectural historian Carl Lounsbury addresses the vocabulary of building in the American colonies of the South , with the title “The language of building in the southern American colonies”. Although specialized dictionaries usually represent a “universal language of building”, the author’s interdisciplinary examination of the language of vernacular architecture in colonial America demonstrates, for example, that words and expressions used to name building types and features – as well as construction practices and materials – reflect variation in English as well as the emergence of regional dialects.

Chapter 14, “Historical sociolinguistics and the necessity of interdisciplinary collaboration” by Mark Lauersdorf, opens Section 3 of the book. The author outlines historical sociolinguistics as a field that involves at least Historical Linguistics and Sociolinguistics, as well as Social History, and discusses different ways of articulating multiple disciplines, such as borrowing, multidisciplinarity, and interdisciplinarity. Subsequently, Lauersdorf calls for interdisciplinary collaboration in research practices, including student training, through the constitution of teams of experts from different research areas.

Jiyoon Lee and Matthew Schreibeis are the authors of Chapter 15, “Comprehensive review of the effect of using music in second language learning”. This text critically reviews 10 relatively recent (2014-2018) empirical studies concerning the effect of music on second language learning. The authors, a composer and a linguist, conclude that there is “a clear positive potential for using music as part of L2 teaching” to enhance language learning. Summing up their findings, Lee and Schreibeis suggest future studies of several unexplored aspects by experts in language and music to further explore which musical structures can be used to highlight specific linguistic features.

In Chapter 16, “Trashing the Bible”, K. Jason Coker brings the fields of Critical White Studies and Biblical Studies into dialogue. This essay exemplifies how scholars may engage in anti-racist biblical studies. Coker takes the “inter-white racial and class friction” evidenced in the category of “Poor White Trash” (hybrid of poor and white) as a point of departure to understand ancient identity negotiation in Judaism/early Christianity as it appears in a conflict between Paul and James in The New Testament.

Economist Jason M. Thomas’s Chapter 17, “Towards a post-structuralist economics”, explains how new technologies have made it possible to perform textual and narrative analyses in Economics to explore how discourses influence economic outcomes. Recent approaches from the perspective of narrative economics also sustain that “discourses not only capture but also constitute economic reality”. Taking the same line of argument further, this view can weaken the predictive value of the existing models that have generally ignored the possible effect of such discourses.

The final chapter is number 18, “Life as a linguist among clinicians: Learnings from interdisciplinary collaborations on language and health”, by Heidi E. Hamilton. It brings together various ideas for linguists who would like to establish cross-disciplinary collaborations with clinicians in the health sector. The author shares concrete experiences of several collaborative projects in which she has participated. Hamilton offers professional guidance on how to proceed successfully, for example, in building mutual frames of reference and shared knowledge with clinical researchers, but also on how to engage students in such initiatives.


A variety of thoughtful viewpoints and informative texts make this book a very welcome and inspiring contribution to studies about language, culture, and communication. This series is likely to be valuable for many readers, and especially for researchers and students in Linguistics who are interested in developing collaborative work across disciplines and with stakeholders. The 18 chapters in this first volume embrace a wide array of linguistic approaches as well as providing insight into disciplines other than Linguistics, such as Architectural History (see Chapter 13), Archeology (see Chapter 11), and Economics (see Chapter 17). All authors are experts engaged in interdisciplinary initiatives who participate in theoretical debates and who discuss methodological approaches – some of them also provide considerations on practical issues. Contributors generously offer numerous concrete examples and detailed illustrations of how inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to language and communication have been developed within different research fields. Additionally, Section 3 offers suggestions for future collaborative research in disciplines such as music as a tool for L2 learning, narrative analysis in Economics, and communication within Health Care (see Chapters 15, 17, and 18).

One weakness is that the reader will probably find it hard to grasp the structure or idea of the three sections – those sections are not graphically marked at all, which makes them almost disappear. However, they are introduced by the editor in Chapter 1, and both authors and editors have done an excellent job in advancing a very interesting and articulate collection. Regardless of the sections, each chapter still has its clear focus, and the whole book is coherent; the ideas and theoretical concepts are repeatedly interconnected – as in the case of the stylish linking between assemblages and materiality (see Chapter 11). Another minor shortcoming is that the volume lacks a list of contributors which would describe their background, as well as their regional and disciplinary affiliations. Some of the authors, for example, seem to be employed outside of academia, a fact that would highlight the transdisciplinarity of the book itself. Information about the contributors would also confirm that, although one of the papers calls for alternative knowledge from the Global South (see Chapter 9), this volume fails to fulfill that request.

Summing up, the overall level of fresh thinking in this collection sets high standards for those to come in this new series. It is also a remarkably readable book and has undoubtedly been carefully copy-edited. Chapters are rather short (less than 20 pages) and well-written. Moreover, some of the authors use unexpected strategies or genres – such as sharing personal narratives and critical reviews of research gone wrong – without losing professionality or focus (see, for example, Chapters 5 and 6).
Laura Álvarez López is a full professor of Portuguese Linguistics at Stockholm University. Her research focuses on the social factors and linguistic mechanisms behind variation and change, mainly in multilingual settings. She is especially interested in transdisciplinary approaches to studying the interrelationships between language, culture and society in Afro-Latin American and Afro-Iberian settings.